A renowned Inverness restaurant has announced it is to close due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Castle Restaurant, on the city’s Castle Street, will close its doors later this month.
Owners Lorraine and Richard Comfort, who have been at the helm for just more than a year, previously said that a reduction in workforce in the city centre due to the pandemic has significantly impacted day-to-day takings.
In a statement online, they confirmed the restaurant will close after service on Saturday, November 21 and thanked all their staff and customers for their support.
Mr Comfort told the P&J: “It was going really well and was busy up until Covid, but since then it has just got quieter and quieter.
“The same clientele is not coming out as before because a lot of people are staying at home or shielding away.
“At the start of the year the government gave us a grant of £10,000 but obviously £10,000 doesn’t keep things running for very long.
“It has not been an easy decision. This is the last thing we wanted.
“I am not happy about having to pay off the staff. That is the most disappointing part of this whole process.
“I took on staff that had worked here previously, some for as long as 20 or 30 years, and for some of them, it is their life.
“I have taken some of the staff out of employment from another employer and now they have to go and find a new job which is nearly going to be impossible at this time of year and under the current circumstances.”
Mr Comfort said that due to the various stages of lockdown and restrictions, it felt like he had started the business three times in a year and urged the government to do more to support smaller firms.
He added: “Just now everything is focused on furloughing staff but there is no focus at all on helping businesses.
“The government are saying that you can furlough your staff, and that is all very well, but if the staff don’t have somewhere to go back and work, what is the point?
“Businesses need support, even if it is a small amount just to pay the electricity bills.
“There are so many hidden costs that people don’t see. Electric is running in the background, there are still bin uplift fees and bills you still have to pay.”
Mr Comfort estimates that around £4,000 worth of stock had to be disposed of in March as a result of the national lockdown.
He claimed the current appearance of Castle Street, in the shadows of the city’s famed landmark, has not helped matters either.
He added: “It is a one-way system now, with scaffolding up everywhere and it is just an absolute eyesore.
“For anyone visiting Inverness, its appearance puts you off. It just looks horrendous.
“People used to park in the car park across the road at night time but they aren’t doing that now because they are having to go all the way around Inverness to get back into it.
“It is just not made easy for them.”
The restaurant, famed for its crinkle-cut chips among other hearty home-cooked meals, first opened to customers in 1959 and has fed thousands over the years to become one of the Highland capitals most-beloved eateries.
Last year, before being taken over by the Comforts, the premises had been sold and earmarked for a new life as a fish and chip shop.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are sorry to hear of the closure of Castle restaurant in Inverness. We fully understand the severe challenges facing the hospitality sector as we look to finely balance measures to suppress the virus and protect lives with keeping businesses open and trading viably.
“We are committed to ensuring no restriction is in place a moment longer than necessary and we will continue to build on our constructive dialogue with the industry and listen to their experiences and concerns as we move through the crisis.
“We are doing everything we can with the powers we have to help businesses, offering support which now exceeds £2.3 billion, including 100% rates relief for pubs and restaurants for the year.
“We would like to have the flexibility to go further and are considering what could be done to mitigate closures and job losses as much as possible. As part of this we will continue to press the UK Government for more fiscal powers so we can have the flexibility required to fully support the needs of the industry.”